Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
When former President Donald Trump recalled a story at a campaign rally in South Carolina over the weekend that he told a European ally that the United States would not defend them against Russia unless ‘they don’t spend more on defense, the reaction was quick and unsurprising.
The White House, in an unusual comment, called Trump’s story of telling another world leader that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever it wants” to countries that have not met NATO spending targets, “appallingly and unbalanced.”
NATO leaders said the suggestion that any member nation would violate the Article 5 mandate that an attack on one is an attack on all “undermines our total security”, while Republican lawmakers in Washington faced questions about the remarks in television interviews. and in the halls of the Capitol.
Trump’s inevitable cycle of controversial statements and positions is nothing new since his first campaign for president in 2016, nor are the inevitable responses and weight given to these comments among different groups.
His opponents say to take him literally and seriously, Republican voters say to take him seriously but not literally, and many of his elected allies often try to do neither .
Take NATO’s remarks at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, on Saturday. The next day, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, co-sponsor of legislation that would prevent a president from leaving NATO without Senate approval, dismissed concerns about Trump’s claims.
“One of the things I’m not going to do anymore is respond to every comment Donald Trump makes and say, ‘Do you still support him?'” he told CNN. “Yes, and I support him because Joe Biden is a disaster.”
Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, attributed the anecdote to Trump’s speaking style.
“Donald Trump is not a member of the Council on Foreign Relations,” he said. “He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician, and we’ve been through that before. You’d think people would have figured that out by now.”
The “seriously but not literally” aspect was on display at the crowded rally on the Coastal Carolina University campus, where his comments on NATO were essentially treated as a throwaway retort and received little support. interest among the crowd.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Part of it is sheer volume: Trump spent nearly two hours talking about everything from his immigration proposals to the criminal charges against him, attacking President Biden and primary Republican rival Nikki Haley, and there was a several-minute interlude during which the crowd chanted “F*** Joe.” Biden” as some protesters were escorted out of the arena.
Part of that comes from Trump himself, who fluctuates between issue-based comments and seemingly random events, like a post on his social media site Sunday that said pop superstar Taylor Swift should support him at the Biden’s place because he made him a lot of money.
His opponents, few in the Republican Party but many on the left, have focused on remarks that would appear to abandon the NATO alliance and further strengthen Russia, as the latest example of why they believe he should not be the Republican Party’s nominee or the nation’s nominee. next president.
Biden’s campaign released a statement reiterating its support for NATO and criticized Trump for “promising to rule as a dictator like the ones he praises from day one if he returns to the Oval Office.”
Less than two weeks before the South Carolina Republican presidential primary, Haley took the opportunity to lambast Trump for his foreign policy stances and his derisive comments about her husband, currently deployed to Africa in the South Carolina National Guard.
But herein lies the reality of Trump’s comments: It’s possible that if elected, he’ll take steps to reduce the country’s international footprint and leave NATO, but it’s possible he won’t was just a throwaway phrase during one of the many rallies he will hold before the presidential election. election.